My word: The bullet, the ballot, and Guy Fawkes

Looking at the US elections, the joke could be as international as Guy Fawkes’s mask. But violence and vendettas are not the answer.

November 3, 2016 20:41
A POSTER of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on a wall near his memorial in Tel Aviv.

A POSTER of late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on a wall near his memorial in Tel Aviv.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

"Remember, remember the Fifth of November, Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why Gunpowder Treason Should ever be forgot.”

I grew up in Britain, where every year that ditty was recited and the night sky would light up with firework displays and burning effigies of Guy Fawkes, commemorating the plot by Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament together with King James I in 1605.

When I emigrated to Israel, Guy Fawkes Night, or Bonfire Night as we sometimes called it, was all but forgotten despite the ditty.

We had plenty of traumatic memories of our own to deal with without getting pulled into the Catholic-Protestant divide.

In more recent history, it’s not the Fifth of November that’s seared in Israeli national consciousness; it’s November 4. November 4, 1995, to be precise.

And if you need to ask what happened then, you were clearly not in the country or more than an infant at the time. Everyone else remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated.

It was Israel’s “Kennedy moment.” It was awful.

The discovery that Rabin had been killed by a Jewish Israeli was chilling.

Every year since then, there have been many commemorative activities around that date – a lot of them focusing, some more successfully than others, on dialogue and trying to bridge between Left and Right, religious and secular.

The public sing-along and speeches in the swiftly renamed Rabin Square – the plaza outside the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Hall where Rabin was shot – was a given.

Last year, the 20th anniversary, some 100,000 people gathered and the speeches included one by former US president Bill Clinton in person and President Barack Obama who spoke via a video-screened message.

Hence the announcement this week that the event would not take place because there was not sufficient funding struck me as sad, even though I’ve never been a fan of the central event, so often exploited politically by one sector to berate the other.

Part of the problem has been the struggle to find a legacy that everyone can live with.

There is Rabin the chief of staff in the Six Day War; the defense minister who helped the IDF recover after the Yom Kippur War; and the premier who ordered Operation Entebbe. And there is the leader who signed the peace treaty with Jordan, a cold peace but still essential in these troubled times in this troubled region.

But there is also the Rabin who, undoubtedly spurred on by his nemesis Shimon Peres, signed on the Oslo Accords with Yasser Arafat – a “peace treaty” that literally blew up with an unprecedented wave of Palestinian terrorism.

“Rabin was killed by a campaign of incitement,” claims the Left, ignoring the way many of the same people had themselves camped outside the home of prime minister Menachem Begin during the First Lebanon War, calling him a “murderer.”

During an interview this week with Radio New Zealand’s Nights program, presenter Bryan Crump asked me whether I thought that the assassination of Rabin was an example of an act that changed history.

It’s a common view, but not mine.

The “what-ifs” of history by their very nature are unfathomable. Who can say for sure what would have been if only this or that had or had not happened? In Rabin’s case, we will never know whether he would have continued with the Oslo process despite the terrorist attacks or perhaps backtracked, stalled or explored a different route. Given that Peres was beaten by Benjamin Netanyahu in the elections that immediately followed the assassination, I also doubt that Rabin would have been reelected as prime minister.

SPEAKING LESS than a week before the US elections, it was natural that the topic should also come up in the radio interview. What happens on November 8, 2016 – whoever is elected and whatever he/she does or doesn’t do – is going to have a profound effect on the global village.

Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have their supporters and their detractors.

I’m among those astonished onlookers who wonder how it came to this – that in the whole USA, these two should be the candidates for the top job.

The US is definitely Israel’s closest, longstanding ally, especially in the unique situation in which Israel has no natural partners with a common language or religion, for example.

The most important factor for Israel is not who wins but ensuring that support for Israel remains a bipartisan issue, for America’s sake as much as our own. We might be tiny in comparison, but we are equally the obvious natural ally of the US in the region – not flawless, but a democracy nonetheless.

When Rabin was shot and killed, democracy was wounded, but did not die with him.

Israel managed to peacefully transfer power from one party to another in subsequent democratic elections.

Crump wondered whether Trump would be a destabilizing figure for the world were he to win. A legitimate fear. But, I countered, a devil’s advocate rather than attorney for either side, theoretically Nobel Peace laureate Barack Obama’s ascent to power should have heralded an unprecedented period of stability. Instead, among the stories largely missed as we focus on Trump’s misogyny and tax-dodging and Clinton’s emails and hidden records: Rockets were launched from Yemen in the direction of Mecca in Saudi Arabia; Morocco was teetering on the edge of its own Arab Spring; and the fight for control of former ISIS-held territory could determine future events in Turkey, Russia, Iran, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and for the Kurds and other minorities.

Twenty-one years on, I wonder what Rabin would have made of it all. The one thing I think we can safely assume is that he would have been no less proud in the achievements of the Start-up Nation than Peres was. The roads, bridges, hospitals and schools named in Rabin’s honor are a testament not only to what he achieved but what the country continues to achieve.

The US elections affect us as they affect every country around the world, but our survival does not depend on who sits in the White House.

Strangely, today, the image of Guy Fawkes is probably more recognizable than that of King James I. Fawkes has become the very face of protest and discontent, often violent, representing everyone from the Occupy movement to the Anonymous group, and the main character of the justifiably popular V for Vendetta movie.

British protesters like to quip that Guy Fawkes was “the only person to enter parliament with honest intentions.”

Looking at the US elections, the joke could be as international as Guy Fawkes’s mask. But violence and vendettas are not the answer.

Fireworks are beautiful; gunpowder plots are not.

That’s something to remember this November and every day of the year.

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